CLEVELAND - Cleveland Hopkins Airport's one and only flight to the North Pole took off Saturday evening, taking along several deserving children and their families.
It was a special flight, called "The Fantasy Flight," organized by the United Airlines and a few Cleveland-area hospitals.
"It gives us an opportunity to allow the families to forget about their troubles and just have fun," said Brenda Gyory, Sr. Manager of Customer Service Airport Operations.
She broke down in tears telling NewsChannel5, "I couldn't be more proud of all the hard work that our employees did. There's over 200 United employees that participated in making this event happen."
The organizations bring children who suffer from life-threatening illnesses to another world. They do this by decorating and completely transforming an arrival gate into a "Winter Wonderland." Activities included a photo booth, face painting and food - but the best part is how the children arrive there via the "Fantasy Flight."
Gyory said they've been organizing this event for 23 years now. However, employees said in past years the plane would only taxi around the tarmac. Saturday, with the help of enough donations to pay for fuel, pilots actually took-off for the first time, flying around Cleveland and Lake Erie.
"I'm very excited," answered little Michael who is being treated at the Cleveland Clinic for Medulloblastoma, described to be a malignant brain tumor.
Like Michael, all of the other children waiting to board couldn't wait a second longer once the Christmas music began to play. And once they boarded, it was nothing but Christmas carols being sung by flight attendants sporting elf hats and passengers the entire way.
Once the United Airlines B737-900 aircraft landed, kids walked into a different arrival gate dressed "head to toe" as the "Winter Wonderland."
The "oooh's and aaah's" came from both children and parents as they left the plane. A throne awaited for Santa and Mrs. Claus. Guests were greeted and hugged by waiving snowmen, elves, nutcrackers and reindeer. There were lit Christmas trees, penguins (not real ones) and gifts galore.
Volunteers served a meal until Old Saint Nick arrived to listen to each and every child on what they wanted for Christmas, with some of those requests a little more than just a simple wish.
"What I want for Christmas is if you can take my cancer away," said a young girl to Santa. That Santa stumbled over that answer with a heavy heart and later described it as unbelievably hard to answer these requests.
Still the smile on every kid's face is what makes it all worth it, according to volunteers. And for the parents, they all say it means just as much.
"Last year we spent every major holiday in the hospital…we're so appreciative to be a part of this," said John McMicken.
Yolanda Gonzalez whose son recently needed a double leg amputation said, "The best part is just seeing their expression on their face, seeing how happy and excited they are and just being together as a family. All of your worries [you] just put them behind for a couple hours."
"This is awesome," said Gonzalez's aunt speaking of her niece and family, "… they've been through so much so this was a real blessing."